Atlantic Salmon FAQ - Equipment

Contributed by Bob Boudreau (copyright)


Basic Equipment

Fly Rod

Your choice of equipment should be determined primarily by the characteristics of water you are fishing and the sizes of flies you will be using. The size of salmon rivers can vary dramatically from small streams less than 30 ft. wide to large rivers more than 200 ft. in width. Wind can play a significant roll when casting in open areas normally associated with larger river systems. Generally speaking you will want larger rods that can handle heavier lines in windy conditions. Large 1/0 and 2/0 flies require larger rods and heavier lines to cast properly.

A good, all round rod that will cover most conditions and cast most of the common selection of fly sizes would be a 9 ft., medium to stiff action, single handed rod for an 8 or a 9 weight line. If you are fishing smaller streams for grilse, then an 8 to 81/2 ft. rod for a 6 or 7 weight line would be adequate. A 91/2 to 10 ft. rod for a 9 or 10 weight may be required for larger rivers where long casts are necessary to cover the productive water and where there is the chance of hooking an extremely large fish. Many of the larger rods come with a fighting butt for playing larger fish.

Rods smaller that 8 ft. are not recommended for playing large salmon that are going to be released. It is difficult to control a large fish on a small rod and the extended duration of the fight will cause unnecessary, additional stress on the salmon.

The double handed spey rod, (traditionally 12 to 16 ft. in length), which is popular in the U.K. is slowly gaining recognition in North America for Atlantic Salmon fishing. Although most rivers in Atlantic Canada can be fished adequately with 9 or 10 ft. rods there are a few larger rivers or pools where the extra length the spey rod offers can be beneficial for covering expansive bodies of water and for improved presentation techniques.

The most popular material for rods is graphite. Some of the more popular manufacturers are Sage, Orvis, Scott, Thomas & Thomas, Fenwick, Powell, Loomis and St. Croix. Brand selection is a matter of personal preference and financial considerations. Talk to a number of experienced salmon fishermen and try casting the rod before purchasing. Many of the more expensive rods come with an unlimited replacement guarantee for breakage of any kind regardless of fault.


A single action reel large enough to hold the flyline and 100 to 200 yards of backing should be adequate. There should be 1/4 inch of extra space at the top of the spool when the flyline, backing and leader are on. The reel should have interchangeable spools so that you have the flexibility to fish various water conditions, e.g. a sinking tip line on the second spool for high water conditions.

The reel can also assist in playing a large salmon. Many reels have a click drag which serves only to prevent overrun or backlash when a fish is running. These reels may be palmed if the spool rim is exposed to add drag to slow down the fish. There are a number or reels now being produced with sophisticated, adjustable drag mechanisms that can assist in playing a large salmon. These reels tend to be more expensive. Many reels also indicate which lines they are meant to carry and how much backing they will hold in combination with the line.

Popular manufacturers include Hardy, Marriat, Billy Pate, Scientific Anglers, Ross, Orvis, Pflueger and J.W. Young.

Fly Line

Generally there are 2 varieties of fly line used for salmon fishing, a floating line and a sinking tip line. A weight forward floating line is recommended for longer casts and to punch out line in windy conditions. Sinking tips of various densities are used for high or extremely fast water conditions to get the fly down to the salmon. Choose a density that is suitable for the water conditions you will be fishing. A number of specialized fly lines have been developed in recent years that provide improved casting ability under various conditions. Some anglers create custom lines by splicing different fly lines together. A traditional floating and sinking tip line are satisfactory for most salmon fishing. The most popular brands of fly line are Scientific Angler's Mastery series and Ultra series, Orvis, Cortland and Lee Wulff. A good quality line will last longer and perform better. Avoid purchasing the very cheap lines.

Backing should be braided Micron or Dacron of approximately 20 or 30 lbs.


There seems to be as many opinions on leaders as fishermen, however in general, leaders for a floating line should be 9 - 12 ft. long and tapered. The section of the leader that attaches to the flyline should be approximately 2/3 the diameter of the fly line and be made from stiff material. Knotless, tapered leaders are available commercially. Many of these, however, are made from material that is not stiff enough in the butt section. This results in a "hinge" effect where the leader attaches to the fly line and as a result of the inefficient transfer of energy the leader will collapse. Check the butt section of the leader for stiffness before you purchase. Also note that trout leaders do not work well for salmon.

Tippet size is determined by the size of fish and water conditions but generally falls in the range of 6 to 12 lbs for most situations. Although salmon are not as leader shy as trout it is wise to use the smallest tippet reasonable in low, clear water conditions.

Many people construct their own leaders which allows for custom sizing and tapers. It is also a less costly alternative. There are many formulas for building leaders to suit various conditions. A typical leader formula for salmon fishing with a floating line is based upon a 60/20/20 rule. The butt section (first 3 pieces), should be 60% of the leader length. The body or second section (next 3 pieces), should be 20% of the leader length and the tippet or last section should form the remaining 20% of the total length of the leader. This formula can be changed to suit conditions with different lengths and tippet sizes provided the relative proportions remain the same. A typical formula would be:

36" of 40 lb.- diameter .024
24" of 30 lb.- diameter .022
12" of 25 lb.- diameter .020
8" of 20 lb.- diameter .018
8" of 15 lb.- diameter .016
8" of 12 lb.- diameter .015
24" of 10 lb.- diameter .014

The most popular material for building leaders and for tippets is Maxima due to its stiffness. There are numerous articles written on leader construction which are available in various magazines and books. If you are just beginning to fish for Atlantic Salmon a tippet of 10 lbs. is recommended. Smaller sized tippets can be used with additional experience and confidence.

Braided tapered leaders for trout and now salmon are gaining in popularity. Braided leaders are much more supple that conventional mono leaders and therefore have less memory. They tangle less than constructed leaders which have several knots that you fly can hook up on. Braided leaders also come in sinking varieties of various speeds (densities) for better control of fly depth. Although they are somewhat more expensive, they can last longer than conventional mono leaders. Airflo is a popular manufacturer of this type of leader.

Using a long, tapered, conventional leader with a sinking tip line defeats the purpose of using the sinking tip. Although the line sinks, the leader doesn't, especially the further you are from the end of the fly line. The fly ends up riding just below the surface. Sinking tip lines can be used with either a sinking, tapered leader which can be purchased commercially, or a straight piece of 3 - 6 ft. tippet material of 8 - 12 lb. test.

Equipment can be purchased separately, or alternatively, many shops offer matched outfits containing rod, reel, line and backing. If you anticipate fishing for salmon on a regular basis I would recommend purchasing the best equipment you can possibly afford in consultation with an experienced salmon fisherman. Generally speaking, the better quality equipment has superior performance characteristics and durability. Try casting the rod before you make a purchase if the tackle shop will allow. A tackle shop salesman, who is an experienced salmon fisherman, will be able to assist you in selecting and matching equipment however it is always good to seek the advice of experienced salmon fishermen in your area (or on the FF@ list), to assist with component and brand selection.

Other Equipment

Waders - chest high waders are recommended for most rivers with neoprene being most appropriate for wading in colder waters. Waders should include an adjustable waist belt or you should purchase one separately.

Wader Repair Kit - to repair leaks in waders on the river.

Wading Shoes - stocking foot waders require separate wading boots. Felt soles are highly recommended for wading in rivers that have slippery bottoms. For very slippery bottoms boots with felt soles and metal studs provide stable footing.

Gravel Guards - to keep small stones and sand from entering wading shores and damaging waders. Many fishermen also wear a heavy sock over the stocking foot to help prevent chafing of the wader material by sand or stones that do manage to get into the wading boot.

CO2 Safety Floatation Device - various products are now available with floatation devices incorporated into a vest, separate collar or suspenders for dangerous wading situations.

Polarized Sunglasses - to see fish below the surface and to protect the eyes from the sun and hooks!

Hat - to protect your head from the sun and hooks!

Insect Repellent - to protect against blackflies and mosquitoes.

Fishing Vest - for carrying fly boxes and various other related paraphernalia. Shorty models are recommended for deep wading.

Fly Boxes - compartment boxes for drys and foam lined or clips for wet flies.

Nippers - to clip leaders and tippet or modify flies streamside.

Pen Knife - to clean fish

Tippet Material - spools of various sized tippet material to add tippet or rebuild leaders.

Fly Floatant - to waterproof dry flies

Line Cleaner & Conditioner - to extend the life of your flyline and improve the floatability and movement of the line through the guides.

Forceps - to remove flies from fish.

Wading Staff - can be a commercial wading staff or a homemade hardwood walking stick to assist in wading fast water.

Thermometer - for taking water temperature.

Tape Measure - to measure salmon for retention limits or to estimate the weight of the fish (length and girth measurements). Some anglers put a mark, with tape, on their rod at 24.8 inches to measure a fish for retention purposes where regulated.

Hook Hone - for sharpening flies that may have been dulled on rocks or putting a better point on larger hooks.

Leader Straightener - a piece of chamois or thin rubber used to straighten out coiled leaders or memory in tippet material.

Small Flashlight - for early morning or late evening fishing or walking to/from the river.

Rain Jacket - One with access through the pockets to your vest underneath. Shorty models recommended for deep wading.

Log Book - the discipline of keeping a detailed log book can provide valuable insights into salmon behavior over time as well as fond memories.

Rod Case - to protect your investment.

Back Up Rod - just in case..........

salmon pic
Contributed by Dave Liverman and many others..
Any corrections, questions or comments to Dave Liverman